WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Black women professionals are changing their priorities.
Many have stopped dreaming about the highly coveted corner office because owning it would be better. They have knocked down the corporate ladder. Instead, they have built an escalator to get them to the top, making entrepreneurship a priority - not just an option.
"You don't have time to think about relationships, friendships, families," said Syreeta McDaniel Houston, a business consultant. "I would call my family from the office at 10 at night."
Her childhood and family life are two of the reasons she said sparked her desire to start her own business. Her father was a contractor and her mom sold Mary Kay products. While growing up, her father could attend her school programs during the day because he controlled his daily schedule. Her mother got home every evening at 5:30 to help her with homework. This nurturing environment helped her grow into a success.
"Ultimately, my parents had my back," she said.
Now she addresses potential clients at luncheons and organizational meetings, she greets them with, "I am Syreeta Houston of McDaniel Consulting. We write business plans."
This simple catchphrase and extensive experience keeps her business thriving in 21 states. She listens to a dream, inputs her ideas and in approximately three weeks produces a framework for the launch of a new venture.
In the past 10 years, Houston and several other budding entrepreneurs have left the corporate boardroom for an office building with their name on it. According to the Center for Women's Business Research, African-American women-owned businesses increased 147 percent between 1997 and 2006. This accounts for 770,396 firms that generate over $29 billion in sales based on U.S. Census Bureau statistics.
Originally from Philadelphia, Houston, 35, started McDaniel Consulting in Dallas in 2001 after quitting her job at Ernst & Young, LLP as a senior international tax and compensation consultant.
Initially, her family could not understand why she would leave a $56,000 salary to start a business. But in her mind, she was stepping out on faith to leave corporate America where she said she had "no time to breathe," to start a family and be her own boss.
She volunteered with the Small Business Development Center in Dallas for six months and realized that there were several entrepreneurs with good ideas but without a solid business plan. Her ability to communicate effectively and a love for research helped launch her business.
Then, her life changed. She dressed better, felt better about herself and formed new relationships. She married Kevin Houston in 2002, and he serves as the head of operations for McDaniel Consulting.
Houston earned her bachelor's and master's degree in business administration from Temple University. As a part of the international business program, she worked in Paris and Donetsk, Ukraine.
Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, praised Black women as "the backbone of the Black family," in the 2008 State of Black America report. "When Black women hurt, the American family suffers," Morial said.
So, for some Black women, the decision to leave the corporate arena was to maintain a functioning family life. In this case, schedule flexibility and a drama-free environment trump a corporate level salary.
Jacqueline Smith is a full-time entrepreneur and full-time mother. She splits her time between running Diva Day Spa and home-schooling her 10-year-old son, Jackson in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
''I'm an educator first,'' says Smith, who graduated from Aurora University with a bachelor's degree in elementary education. ''My son is my priority.''
Smith, 47, worked for Bristol-Myers Squibb, a global pharmaceutical company in Boca Raton, Fla. for 10 years before she started her day spa in 1999. Since then, she has established her own skin care line and looks forward to moving her business closer to the beach.
She said she prefers the peaceful and relaxing atmosphere of her spa to the "chatter and drama" of the corporate world.
But, it wasn't easy. Raising capital and promoting her spa were hard to do. Smith sat down with several local entrepreneurs over lunch to understand the talent, drive and money it took to get started.
Houston says in starting a business, the No. 1 priority is simple. Get customers.
"People try to do too much," she says. "Be direct, clear and sell the niche. When I get customers, I put together the best possible product. You have to work in your passion to do so."
This increase in women-owned businesses has trickled down to youth as well. Campuses are promoting business-savvy curriculum in a liberal arts colleges.
Kyosha Johnson, a native of Tucson, Ariz. says she has an ''independent spirit" and a love for fashion. Her desire to start her own fashion magazine and retail company prompted her decision to minor in entrepreneurship at Howard University.
The Kauffman Foundation selected Howard as one of eight institutions to receive funding for entrepreneurial education in 2003, according to the ELI Institute's Web site.
''Just because society does not offer me a chance to step outside of their expectations does not mean I will not find a way to do it myself,'' said Johnson, 19, a sophomore fashion merchandising major. "It has always been instilled in me to control my own future."